I am amused by some of my Christian acquaintances and friends. They spend time postulating and posing ideas in their minds as to what exactly is meant by some of the weightier things in Godâ€™s word. The church and the form it takes is one current fashion. I read recently that the church is â€œinvisible.â€ I have heard that it is not an organization, a corporation, an entity, or an institution.
“For Moses truly said to the fathers, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3: 22 , 23)
“Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
I wrote on these two passages a few months ago and thought it might be useful to continue with the same thought now. The purpose is to identify essentials and non-essentials in serving God.
In the second verse Jesus taught that teaching must be accomplished. As he is listed in the first of the listed passages as the one who should be listened to “in all things whatever he says,” then it is useful to identify those “things” and to be about doing them.
The instruction is to make disciples – to teach. That is then an essential.
But to do the teaching do I need to first head off to the university for a PhD or DD, or go to seminary school? Must teaching be done orally – or from a pulpit?
How shall I teach? Some folks do not like microphones, blackboards, overheads or PC generated slides – and someone is around somewhere that just does not like each and every thing. Some do not like televised teaching and radio programs. Some do not like articles on the gospel.
Yet not a word was said about the mode of teaching. All that is commanded is to “go and teach.” As an aside, you may already know that the words for teaching and preaching are the same words in the earliest versions and in the original languages of the scriptures. Therefore, the essential is to teach and a non-essential is how it is to be accomplished.
We were not told a thing about teaching folks to sing alto or bass: we were not told a thing about teaching how to handle stress in our careers or how to deal with the boss and his screaming. We were not told a thing about teaching to get the investment accounts right for godly living, and we were not told to teach each other to be nice or to pray to let Jesus come into our lives.
C. S. Lewis once said, “We must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world — and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine.” I do not know his status before God, and that is not my business, but he got this part right.
The teaching essential is in teaching the things that will make people Christians, the non-essentials are the mode of delivery, or the teaching of things that will not serve to make people Christians, or other niceties or behaviors, regardless of any seeming value (to Christians or otherwise).
Further I must “make disciples of all nations.” Does that mean I must be bilingual and multi-cultural? Can my teaching of all nations simply mean that I must teach ALL that I have opportunity to teach? I have talked to some folks that believe if you do not go on a crusade to some foreign land that you cannot fulfill this command.
First and foremost the command was given to the apostles, and so some find it easy to lay this duty off on others, or to not consider it. Unfortunately, Jesus later told the apostles in the very same thought “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” What had they just been commanded but to “Go and teach?” Therefore all who are taught then also have the command to “go and teach.”
It has been said that if we all only taught and converted our friends or our next-door neighbors and then they their neighbor in turn, that it would not be long before ALL NATIONS were in the temple of God. We would not then have to actually go very far, would we?
But that we must “go” “teach” or “disciple” and “teach all nations” is beyond any serious dispute. The how and where is left open to our own judgment.
Is a woman forbidden from teaching publicly? I believe that God expects us to think and not to become bigger knotheads than we were when we started out. The only restriction is that women must not seize the man’s authority (I take that to mean in the teaching before the Lord’s Day assembly) and must pay attention to the other restrictions – but that does not mean they should not or cannot teach. Men are also restricted, they are commanded to leave the teaching of the younger women to the older women (and that is also by design). We all have a part that we must play. Note the essentials and non-essentials.
Did you know that there are some places where I can go to teach and they will listen gladly to what is said, yet in the same places if I were to write them an essay like this they would never read it. Some folks are opposed to literature. If you look you can find someone opposed to everything.
What did Jesus command? He commanded the going: he commanded the teaching: he commanded that the word of God be passed to all nations and people: and he commanded baptism. And it was said of Christ that: “it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” So God said baptize, so that must be an essential.
I am not going to make you jump into the air to get to my point, so here we go. God said baptize and that means to bury, you should know that you can find that in God’s book. To bury means to whelm, to cover up – and no one reading this should doubt that. If you do doubt it, you are not yet a candidate for either baptism or conversion. You need to learn some things.
God said, “Go baptize.” What do you suppose he meant? With a little study we would conclude that he meant for us to be “buried with him in baptism,” just as the apostle stated. That should settle it. It is therefore essential to be baptized regardless of what others may say or think.
What about this little hint of the obvious – water is the element of baptism. The Bible says that too. Have you ever thought about what temperature or level of purity the water must be to be correct? What do you think about that? Some people like to see you baptized in the river in the dead of winter so that you can potentially go straight from the waters of baptism and directly to Abraham’s bosom. Some must have a baptistery. Some go so far as to travel to the Jordan River to be baptized. Paraphrasing Naaman’s words, are the waters better there?
Who must do the baptizing? Must it be in my church building or yours? If you were not baptized by a pedigreed card carrying preacher from an ultra-conservative church were you really baptized into Christ? Will the baptism police catch up with you some day and revoke your membership? I wonder: is it possible to be baptized in a crooked church by a crooked minister but for all the right reasons? You know the bible says not a word about any of this – not one word. Therefore it is baptism for the remission of sins and to put on Christ that is essential and the rest mentioned is non-essential.
Now when you baptize someone do they have to be upright in the water, or can they be sitting down? What is the scriptural mode? How about sideways? Though it might be inconvenient, how about head first? You know what? The Bible does not say word one about the position of baptism – not one word. So physically speaking, we could baptize upside down and backwards if we saw a need to. We could fasten someone in a chair and go down with them into the water if it was required. What is needed is to baptize for the reasons mentioned – through immersion in water in order to put on Christ. I know a preacher who himself had been baptized in the bathtub in his apartment. Many have been baptized in swimming pools, countless thousands in rivers and ponds.
I can as easily baptize in the Atlantic Ocean as in a horse tub without missing a detail. We could go down into the water in both places and come up out of the water in both places. And in doing so we would add nothing, nor take anything away from the word of the prophet. Yet someone somewhere objected when baptisteries were first used, and some say this or that against baptism in one place or another. Some demand that in every case the preacher must enter the water because they have the record of the eunuch and would make it the pattern for all.
Some say you must say this or that when you baptize and the wording is the thing. I knew a preacher that would carefully watch, and if so much as a hair on the head was not totally under the water, he would state that the baptism had not been accomplished fitly. But God said nothing of all of that. He only said to be immersed and that means that the one that does not do that will be “cut off from among the people.”
Let us do exactly what God says and we will not have a single problem, either in this world, or in the next.
Take another item: the Lord’s Supper —
First, God commanded the eating of it and showed this also by approved example. I learn the time: the first day of the week, by the record of the New Testament, and there also I learn the components: bread and wine or fruit of the vine and prayer. Therefore, I cannot substitute water and sweet rolls and I cannot leave off the blessings. If I did that I would be in danger of being destroyed from among the people. These are all essential things.
Now for some non-essentials — does it matter if we pass the bread and fruit of the vine around or should everyone file past the table to partake of it? Must we make the loaf or should we purchase it? Must it be grape juice or is wine acceptable? Will members be in danger of drunken behavior due to the amount of intake? Would we offend some brother who has never taken a touch of wine to their lips? Why would we risk offense when such things constitute non-essentials? What is safe is in the doing of what is essential and nothing more.
How big a cup or how many cups should we have? The Lord may have used only one when he instituted the supper, but we really cannot be sure from the text, now can we? If they used only one cup on that first Pentecost, it certainly was well worn by the end of that day or perhaps it was the size of a washtub and on wheels to easily accommodate everyone drinking from it as it was passed around.
Do you suppose they were not sophisticated enough to know of personal hygiene – that such things are only of modern invention?
As discussed and divisive as these things can become it seems the Bible does not say a word about any of them. Christ said that all should eat and drink appropriately – that’s all folks. Beyond this there is only one scripture we can appeal to as governing such things and that is “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Now whatever good sense may require beyond this should be sufficient to meet with Heavens approval.
I must observe the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, but at what hour? I can make a more than reasonable argument for you about just exactly what the corresponding word “supper” means in any language. And perhaps we could argue strongly for once per Lord’s Day versus twice or more. We might even argue as to when we should observe the Supper during the worship hour. But you know in all of this, we would again be stepping beyond the requirement and simple understanding. Dinner and supper do not necessarily imply a time, and no time is explicitly given. And yet the command is itself implicit: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.” Therefore we are to come together in assembly with the purpose of taking the Supper.
Perhaps you know some who do not partake of the Supper at an evening service if they had not been present in the morning – and that is all well and good. But many places offer the Supper to those who were not present in the morning. We might look at it this way: when I come to an assembly for the usual morning worship I have five items in mind: to partake of the Supper, to contribute of my means, to sing, to pray, and to teach or to be taught. When I come back in the evening, I have only three of these before me. But the person who was not present that morning still has all five. I personally prefer the idea of offering the Supper at all meetings on the Lord’s Day. But we could put it off altogether at night could we not, as long as we participated sometime on each and every Lord’s Day. You see, the essential is to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day. And I certainly would not entertain splitting a church over whether or not the Supper should or should not be offered at night.
In the same manner we are to give of our means. The scripture says: “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there will be no collections when I come.” The New American Standard Version says: “On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.” There you have God’s word on the subject- all the essentials. The prophet has spoken, and it behooves us to comply, for recall that the one who does not hear shall be destroyed from among the people.
The essential thing in all that we do is to obey the Lord. The non-essentials should be left off the agenda altogether. We are not told to pray over the collection – not one word is said about that. We certainly can if we like. We are not told to collect it on a plate, in a basket, in a bucket or a pickle barrel. We are simply told to collect a treasury (a perfectly good and scriptural word) on the first day of the week so that we may meet the needs of the congregation. Beyond that not a thing is said of how this is to be administered except noting again what Paul said as to how we are to carry ourselves when doing the Lord’s business. Therefore what we need to concentrate on is getting the written instructions completed just exactly as it was stated. Once that is accomplished, we should have some time left to sit by and decide on all the non-essentials.
Essentially set before you is salvations call: that and nothing more. The essentials are for you to be obedient to the call of heaven. The object is to hear, to repent, to confess, to be baptized, to rise and walk in newness of life in Christ. Those are the basic essentials. Let us leave the non-essentials for more qualified folks to consider.